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Happy, illegal hens.

In an earlier post, I laid out my best understanding of Powell River’s somewhat complicated Animal Control Bylaw 1979, 2003. After some months of work behind the scenes, the City’s proposed amendments to this bylaw will be presented for a first reading this Thursday at the meeting of the Committee of the Whole. These amendments come in the wake of the successful ‘Hens in the Hood’ youth employment project back in late 2010, which constructed a number of test sites within city limits and monitored them for problems with odour, pests, noise, and predators. At the same time, the youth in the project conducted a survey among Powell River residents which indicated strong support for increased freedom to raise hens in the city:

  • food sustainability was important to 98.8% of respondents;
  • 98.4% believed that it is important for City Hall to support local food practices; and
  • 96.7% believed that people should be able to raise hens within the municipality.

In the context of the City’s own Sustainability Charter and ever-increasing public awareness of the need to promote local production of and access to healthy food, it’s a bit disappointing to see that the amendments as proposed actually appear to go backwards.

In order to best understand the situation, it might be good to review the earlier post, and especially to pay attention to the zoning map: specifically zone RA1 (which is restricted to parts of Wildwood) and zones R1 and R2 (scattered throughout Cranberry and Westview). It appears that the bylaw amendments will not affect agricultural zones A1 and A2

As I understand them, here are some of the main changes that this bylaw amendment would introduce if passed by Council as is:

  1. The current bylaw excludes animals other than dogs or cats from all zones except RA1, A1, and A2. The amendments would permit up to four hens on parcels of land zoned R1 or R2, provided that the lot area is 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) or more.
    RESULT: City staff, in their report to Council, admit that “By limiting hens to half acre lots, very few R1 or R2 properties in the City would even qualify as candidate sites.” None of the test sites from the Hens in the Hood project would qualify under this new regime.
  2. The current bylaw refers to “poultry” when setting out limits on numbers of animals that may be kept on parcels of land zoned RA1, A1, or A2. The amendments continue to permit “hens  and  other  poultry” for zones A1 and A2, but hens only in zone RA1. In the City’s staff report it is noted that “The keeping of other poultry such as water fowl and turkeys is not recommended as these birds require different shelter, water, and care arrangements as well as additional space.”
    RESULT: Anyone currently raising ducks, turkeys, or other fowl on a parcel of land zoned RA1 will be in violation of the new bylaw.
  3. The current bylaw permits up to 12 poultry, none of which may be a rooster, or 20 rabbits on a parcel of land zoned Ra1, A1, or A2 having an area of 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) or less; and up to 24 poultry, one of which may be a rooster, or 50 rabbits on a parcel of land zoned RA1, A1, or A2 having an area greater than 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres). The amendments allow a maximum of 10 rabbits in an area zoned RA1 provided that the lot area is 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) or more. From the staff report: “Staff do not recommend expanding the keeping of rabbits as these animals multiply at exponential rates
    if released or escaped from pens.”
    RESULT: No change with respect to raising hens in zones RA1, A1, or A2. But the number of legally permissible rabbits is significantly reduced.
  4. The amendments state that “All owners of lands accommodating hens must be registered as regards this activity with the City in the form and manner prescribed by the Animal Control Officer.”

The upshot is that things remain pretty much unchanged for agricultural parcels zoned A1 or A2; it will become much more restricted in zone RA1; and there will be relatively no change in any other area of Powell River.

What has happened is that the City has had input from a number of organizations and individuals who see only the potential downside of making it easier to raise hens and other small animals in the City: the Conservation Officer, Bylaw Enforcement, the Human Society, and the local SPCA office. The City has not had any organized pressure from groups or individuals interested in making it easier to raise small livestock. There are serious challenges involved, especially the threat from predators, and some kind of city-wide plan will be required in order to address these challenges. Advocating for a more liberal bylaw regime, and helping the City deal with the potential negative consequences, is something that an existing organization might take on; for example, the Powell River Farmers’ Institute. Or citizens who are genuinely concerned could form an organization to carry out this advocacy work.

Had the last meeting of the year last night, and (I think) the first meeting of the second year of meetings… meaning, if I remember rightly, that the first meeting ever was in December 2007, back when we had no name for these monthly gatherings.

About 8 people showed up, which is not bad for a December evening. The food was great: a delicious curry and rice, some mashed (local) potatoes with parsley & smoked salmon, deviled backyard (illegal!) eggs, and yummy shortbread and other treats for dessert.

Conversation was, as always, fairly free-wheeling. But we did do a go-round and give everyone a chance to talk about what they’re up to, what’s going on in the garden, and all that good stuff. I handed out copies of the first draft of the seed-saving plan and we talked about that. I’m pretty certain that this is a project that will really spark people’s imaginations and lead to good conversations about the importance of local seed-saving, the fragility of the global food supply, backyard gardening in hard times, and all sorts of other topics near and dear to the heart of the Kale Force.

For anyone interested in getting more involved, the seed-saving project — which badly needs a jazzy name — has a blog. There’s not a huge amount of information there now, but this is the place on the web where we will be creating and following this local project, answering questions, sharing information and results, and all that.

See you in the new year!

One of Wendy's squash patches; pole beans in the background

One of Wendy's squash patches; pole beans in the background

We had the September Kale Force meeting last night, one week late since I was out of town at the Sorrento gathering of the BC Food Systems Network last Wednesday. This month’s meeting was the follow-up meeting to July’s meeting when Wendy Devlin talked to the group about some of the basics of saving seeds. That was the classroom portion; last night’s meeting was the hands-on part. We met up at Wendy’s place, up in the far northeast corner of Wildwood, admired her ducks and rabbits and sheep, and then spent almost two hours wandering around in her garden, learning about the ins and outs of seed-saving.

We looked at chard, beet, dill, cilantro, beans, various flowers, talked about gathering seeds from plants like cucumbers and tomatillos, and spent some time gathering seeds from Wendy’s cosmos (cosmoses?). It certainly adds a whole new dimension to gardening when you have to think ahead to saving seeds, since you have to consider distances between plants, accidental pollination, flowering times, and the tradeoffs between growing plants for eating and growing plants for seed.

After that, some of us went down the road a piece to Heinz’ house and admired his incredible garden, built among the rock formations beside his house. Talk about making the best of a difficult situation for a garden! Heinz has trucked in large amounts of soil and amendments and created a very orderly and well-maintained fruit and vegetable garden. He has lots of strawberries, even this late in the season, which might be something to do with the fact that everything is surrounded by rock, which probably helps keep the garden from cooling down as much as it otherwise might. We enjoyed a nice potluck meal and conversation, and then called it a night.

One thing that came out of the workshop was a renewed interest in creating a regional seed-saving effort, whereby people in different parts of town could tale responsibility for saving seed from particular plants and varieties. This might allow for isolating plants from cross-pollination and accidental hybridization, and would allow for some plants to be grown for seed in areas which are more conducive to those plants. For example, Wendy was having trouble getting some of her plants to set seed before the cool damp weather starts; but in drier warmer parts of Powell River it should be possible to extend the growing season by a couple weeks or more.

So, this winter, as we continue to meet (second Wednesday of every month at 5:00 PM at the Community Resource Centre!), we will hopefully be planning a little network of seed-savers around the area, divvying up responsibility for seeds from various plants, and using these seeds to feed into Seedy Saturday. Perhaps over time this will evolve into a seed company or cooperative.

If you consult the Animal Control Consolidation (by-law #1979) in conjunction with the zoning map of the City of Powell River, you can figure out whether you are allowed to keep animals on your property other than dogs or cats. Here’s how it works:

Go to page 4 of the Animal Control Consolidation. Clause 29 states:

29. No person shall keep any animal, other than a dog or cat, on a parcel of land in the District unless the land is in an area zoned RA1, A1 or A2 under the Powell River Zoning Bylaw No. 1851, 1999 except in the lawful operation of a pet shop or veterinary clinic.

There are no exceptions to this clause. So look at the zoning map. If you are not in an area zoned RA1 (Residential Agricultural), A1 (Small Lot Rural Residential), or A2 (Small Lot Rural), then you are out of luck. You’ll have to raise small animals on the QT. These zones cover all of Wildwood, except for Catalyst’s landfill; most of the parts of Cranberry lying to the south, east, and north of Cranberry Lake; and a few areas on the edge of Westview as well as the lands surrounding the hydro right-of-way.

Let’s say that you do happen to live in an area zoned RA1, A1, or A2. Clause 30 of the Animal Control Consolidation states:

30. No person shall keep any animal, other than a dog or cat in the District unless:

a) 0.4 hectares (1 acre) of land is provided for the animal, and

b) an additional 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) of land is provided for each additional animal.

c) Notwithstanding sections 30 (a) and (b) of this bylaw, a person may keep any animal, other than a dog or cat on a parcel of land in the District in an area zoned Residential Agricultural (RA1), under the Powell River Zoning Bylaw No. 1851, 1999 provided that:

(i) 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) of land is provided for each animal.

So now we learn that in order to keep any animal other than a dog or cat, you need to be in an area zoned RA1, A1, or A2; and you must also provide an acre of land for the first such animal (clause 30(a)) and a half-acre for each subsequent animal (clause 30(b)).

Clause 30(c) informs us that if you are in area zoned RA1, however, you only need a half-acre for each animal, not a full acre for the first animal and a half-acre for the subsequent ones. (So zone RA1 is clearly the gold standard of urban agricultural zones.)

Now we get to clauses 31 and 32:

32. Notwithstanding section 30 of this bylaw, a person may keep up to 24 poultry, one of which may be a rooster, or 50 rabbits on a parcel of land in the District having an area greater than 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres).

31. Notwithstanding section 30 of this bylaw, a person may keep up to 12 poultry, none of which may be a rooster, or 20 rabbits on a parcel of land in the District having an area of 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) or less.

Upshot of these two clauses: the business we just went through about needing an acre for the first animal and so on does not count if we are talking about poultry or rabbits. In the case of poultry or rabbits, you need to be an area zoned RA1, A1, or A2, as always; but if your property is half an acre or smaller in size then you can keep “up to 12 poultry, none of which may be a rooster, or 20 rabbits”. If your property is larger than half an acre then you can keep “up to 24 poultry, one of which may be a rooster, or 50 rabbits”.

It seems that the by-law is written so that poultry and rabbits are mutually exclusive. At any rate, there is no simple way of figuring out of you can keep some mix of poultry and rabbits, and if so how many poultry equals one rabbit.

So, in the interests of simplifying this, here is the decision tree:

1. Do you live in an area zoned RA1, A1, or A2? (Consult the map.) If yes, go to (2). If no, you cannot legally keep livestock in the City of Powell River. Go to (7).

2. Is your property half an acre or less in size? If yes, go to (3). If no, go to (4).

3. You may keep up to 12 poultry, none of which may be a rooster, or 20 rabbits. If your property is in an area zoned RA1, and it is precisely half an acre in size, then you can keep one other animal other than a dog, cat, poultry, or rabbit. Go to (7).

4. You may keep up to 24 poultry, one of which may be a rooster, or 50 rabbits. Is your property in an area zoned RA1? If so, go to (5). If not, go to (6).

5. You can keep animals other than a dog, cat, poultry, or rabbit, as long as you provide a half an acre per animal. Go to (7).

6. You can keep animals other than a dog, cat, poultry, or rabbit, as long as you provide an acre for the first such animal and a half an acre for each subsequent animal. Go to (7).

7. Confused? If yes, then go back to (1) and try again. If not, you’re done.

So, it’s a little complicated, but not terribly so.

The upshot is that there are large parts of the City of Powell River where livestock are illegal. This needs to be investigated and changed if needed. Who wants to help with that?

David's recent links of interest

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